11/19/2014 09:39 am ET Updated Jan 19, 2015

Women in Business: Judy Wellfare, Executive Creative Director, Plus

British-born and raised in China, Judy's creative pursuits have taken her on a global adventure. With a resume encompassing extensive international experience, and a passion for storytelling, Judy brings a wealth of expertise and insight in branding, communications and integrated content platforms.

Judy traveled to Japan to explore creativity from a different perspective. While there, she helped bring voice to women's interests and passions by serving as Creative Director for Japan's first entertainment platform for women, SHE TV.

In Hong Kong, Judy was the director of Channel [V]s flagship show By Demand. The sketch comedy show was the first of its kind in Asia and was broadcast live 4 nights a week to over 220 million viewers across Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Distinctive cultures and passions across 15 countries were connected through comedy and music.

Executive Creative Director at Plus, Judy is a true creative force, bringing together her skills as a designer and live action director to create and capture stories and campaigns for global brand clients that include Nike, ASICS, MAC Cosmetics, Kiehl's Since 1851, Aveda, Estee Lauder, Bvlgari, Shu Uemura, Shiseido, Starwood Hotels, United Nations, Nissan, AMC, Jetblue, and Virgin Mobile.

Her work has garnered numerous renowned industry awards that range from The Clios to OneShow, Promax/BDA, Pusan (Korea), D&AD. As a graphic artist Judy's work has been published and exhibited around the world, as she has been sought out to speak at creative conferences internationally.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I think that my diplomatic upbringing really set me up for an adventurous and fearless outlook on life. My father is a British Diplomat, I was born in Guatemala, raised in China and have travelled to 40+ countries. I went to an international school in Beijing with kids from 30 countries, where different language and cultural values were brought together under one roof. Growing up in this unique environment there was no opportunity for close-minded thinking - we all had to just get on with it and figure out ways to connect and build friendships despite language and cultural differences. As kids we moved every two years - we had to settle in a new country, make new friends and adapt to new cultures. My parents made sure that the challenges we faced were turned into opportunities. I think that it helped me approach life and career challenges with an open mind and open heart. I've always tried to push myself and I encourage others to push themselves too.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Plus?
For me the challenges of working in different cultures help me find new ways to fuel my imagination and influence my creative process.

Starting out in music television in Hong Kong, my career has always been connected to visual and cultural storytelling. One of my first jobs was directing a live sketch TV show for an audience of 220 million people across Asia and the Middle East - our challenge was to connect distinctive cultures and passions across 15 countries - we did it through comedy and music.

Following this, I spent 3 1/2 years working in Tokyo, where I had to, again, start at the bottom of the totem pole because I was a) foreign and b) a woman. To further my career, I worked my way through a lot of barriers to earn the respect, ears and eyes of my colleagues. By the time I decided to move to New York, I was the Creative Director of Japan's first women's entertainment network, SHETV, where we helped to bring voice to women's interests and passions.

Along with being a Creative Director, I am also a Director - I love the teamwork and craftsmanship that happens on set, where a group of people with different skills work together under one vision, in real time, and you watch a story unfold together.

I think that these experiences informed my inspiration to launch and build the non-traditional model that is our hybrid agency - allowing us to blend and balance different skills and services in a holistic way.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Plus?
We are lucky to work with amazing clients and brands. We believe it's important to forge enduring and truly collaborative relationships with them. I also feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to build a company (with my partner Jeremy Hollister) and help shape it's culture, to build a team of whom I am proud and who helps the company evolve.

It's not easy building a successful business. The challenges for a small company are ongoing, but we have persevered and are in constant evolution. We began our journey as a design and production company and over the years, our expertise grew and we evolved into a hybrid creative agency - a synergistic blend of strategy, creative and production that allows us to help our clients in different arenas. We are small and agile and this lets us navigate our clients through changing trends and consumer behaviors.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in advertising and marketing?
It can be a very rewarding career - one that allows you to work across a myriad of different arenas. If you want something that will challenge you every day, then go for it. It's not easy though - it's extremely competitive. Know that you will have to keep learning and working under pressure, there's no sitting back involved.

Before you get in, even if you don't know exactly what you want to do, know what you want to achieve in the long term - this will help you set standards to measure yourself. You'll be spending most of your working life creating and telling other people's stories and can lose sight and perspective on your own. Try to remember to make sure your own story is rich and interesting. If the setting you are in doesn't fit, write yourself into a new one, don't be afraid to take a risk and try something very different. Create intrigue, turn it upside down and challenge your self so that you can live with adventure.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Stay curious. If you are curious, then you will be engaged. If you are engaged then you will find passion. If you find passion then you will bring positive influence and great work to life.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
A very good question - and honestly I go through phases where I am very focused on this balance. There are times where work takes over. I don't have children, but with the company I do have a lot of mouths to feed every month, so it is a full-time, 24-hour commitment. I try to dedicate time to personal interests - and I'm lucky that I love my work, so that makes it easier.

I've also recently rekindled a childhood passion of mine: horse riding. I'm so energized and humbled to be back in the saddle as a beginner student, still learning how to work with such intelligent and compassionate creatures. I'm an active person and love extreme sports. Technical ones - from horse riding to kite surfing - allow you to get outside of yourself and escape into a moment. They are incredibly energizing for me.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I am lucky to work with very positive and confident women. I used to see a lot more competitiveness and sabotage happen between professional women (you'd see cliques form, cattiness and pettiness). Women bullied me in the earlier part of my career. These women were threatened by my eagerness and energy. I got out of that environment as quickly as I could and haven't been exposed to it for a long time.

Women can be very threatened in this industry; they can find it difficult to maintain confidence because they are pushed aside by ego. I hear a lot of women in the industry talk about how they are encouraged to "act more like men." I profoundly disagree. I believe that women can show a tremendous sense and skill for resourcefulness, sensitivity and compassion. That's a wonderful thing and it should be used to bring positivity to their environment. I think we should stop defining "success" against the traditional benchmark and be open to the fact that both women and men bring different strengths and perspectives - both of which are equally valid. Embrace and encourage an open culture in your workplace.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship has had a huge impact on my career. Toshi Ochi, my boss in Japan, had a deep influence on me professionally and personally. Working as a woman in a very different cultural environment in Tokyo was difficult, but Toshi helped me cut through cultural barriers whilst pushing the quality of my work. His work ethic and philosophy around truth were very influential.

I also have to give much gratitude to Jeremy Hollister, my work and life partner. Throughout our journey with PLUS, he has been very supportive of my growth and choices over the years.

Mentorship is a big part of PLUS' culture. In fact, a lot of our employees started as interns - young, passionate people who have added to the company values and quality of our work.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I have immense respect for Cheryl Vitali, the General Manager of Kiehl's Since 1851. I have had the pleasure of working with Cheryl and her team for several years, and deeply admire her approach and warmth as a leader. She sparkles with intelligence and insight and the brand under her wings has blossomed into a global powerhouse in the skincare space. Cheryl is one of the most approachable leaders I have met. She is an amazing listener, embraces and respects collaboration and leads with grace.

I also admire Angela Arendhts, the former CEO of Burberry, whose work transformed the brand from ailing fashion house into a truly modern luxury brand, embracing storytelling and digital as a tool to reinvigorate the brand and connect with today's consumer. Luxury brands are traditionally very rooted in "traditional" marketing, Angela changed the game and set a new bar for other brands to look up to.

I would have loved to work for Coco Chanel. I think she was an incredible life force to be around, a true maverick and visionary. It must have been incredible to see her revolution of fashion come to life, to watch her ideas stitch together and open the door for empowered elegance.

What do you want Plus to accomplish in the next year?
I am looking forward to 2015. Plus' focus in the content marketing space is on video strategy and storytelling - we feel it represents some of the most exciting engagement and growth opportunities for brands. We are excited to see how the use of video is growing and is proving to be so effective from a brand-building perspective, and so, I'm excited to further develop this area of our business.